"Welcome to the Jungle!"
Trip Start Jan 31, 2008
32Trip End May 31, 2008
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Where I stayed
Welcome to the jungle
It gets worse here everyday
Ya learn ta live like an animal
In the jungle where we play
If you got a hunger for what you see
You'll take it eventually
You can have anything you want
But you better not take it from me
Traveling on an overnight sleeper train was exciting up until the point where I was sleeping near the ceiling with no windows, the overhead lights shining in my eyes and the AC blasting at -10C. I kept falling asleep and then waking up in a panic that the train was going to go off the tracks. Mainly because when you are hovering in the air, it feels like the train is going a thousand times faster than it actually is. Thus, when you're trying to sleep and are only half asleep, your mind plays dirty tricks on you. I ended up having crazy nightmares about people crouching at the bottom of my bed, watching me. Not cool. Needless to say, I barely slept and am not looking forward to the same experience tonight. Maybe I'll fake a panic attack involving heights and switch with someone who has the bottom bunk?
When I arrived in Chiang Mai, I had a day to myself which is when I saw the Heritage Park-like Hillside Villages and the monkey school. (You're right Martin - which *is* better? Death or captivity... sometimes looking at the monkeys and elephants, I'm not too sure. A woman actually tried to sell me ivory the other day and I tried explaining to her that where I come from, that is very illegal indeed. To no avail, of course, she just kept lowering her price.)
The next day, I met up with the group I was traveling with. The head count ended up being 5 Brits, 2 Swedes, 2 Aussies and me - 6 guys, 4 girls. We were outnumbered to be sure! At some point we were joined by two french canadians who, luckily for them, ended up with a free translator. It was nice to be told that my french is pretty flawless considering I use it so rarely though it was certainly a challenge to attempt to translate some of the humour that got tossed around in the evening after the boys had had some "jungle Changs". (I took to calling the Thai beer "jungle Chang" because it seemed to make all of those who drank it absolutely nuts. I, myself, never had more than one being that I knew hiking the next morning on a hangover would be impossible. I can't say the same for the boys, however. They were definitely the evening entertainment. More on that later...)
We set off to the market to stock up on insect repellent which apparently has done zilch for me, I don't think I have *ever* been so itchy in my entire life. I have a couple anklets of mosquito bites, huge patches on the back of my arms and even right on the line where my bikini ends. God help me. Sometimes I roll over in the middle of the night and start twitching because I rubbed a bite and it has now become itchy! It's somewhat torturous, I have to say. But I'm managing.
Back in the truck and a 2hr drive to the beginning of our trek which started, right off the bat, with a 25 min-haul-ass-in-the-blaring-tropical-sun up a steep hill. Having spent all of December planted firmly on my ass with Christmas goodies in my left hand and the remote control in my right did absolutely nothing to help prepare me for trekking in the jungle. By minute fifteen I was ready to go Leonardo Dicaprio (from The Beach) on my guide's ass. I was looking around for a spare machete when we finally reached the top. Ohthankgod. But we will had another 100 mins to go which included a few more nose bleed hikes up steep hills.
We had two guides: Dat, who lives in Chiang Mai and Pan, who grew up and lives in one of the villages in the jungle. Dat enjoyed his Chang in the evenings and Pan was very much akin to Mowgli from the Jungle Book. I wish I could have video taped his antics but it was pitch black when he was slippery rock jumping to catch frogs!!
That evening we stayed in a house made of bamboo, set on the face of a cliff complete with mats to sleep on and mosquito nets. The deck where we hung out, ate and drank was litterally held up by two wooden pillars that went downdowndowndown and stuck into the earth. It was darker than the inside of a tiger's mouth by 6:30pm and the stars took my breath away. The shadow of the mountains looked unreal as if I could reach out and smudge them out of a painting. Looking out at all this, I wondered why there were people who wouldn't want to experience this? It was pretty exhilerating.
Tossing my bag violently in the corner (it seemed to weight a million pounds and it was a smaller rutsack that I'd taken with me!), I took off with the french canadians to see the village. There were boys running around everywhere and a net for volleyball. I motioned to it and asked it they had a ball, they brought out this hard bamboo ball that they attempted to play hackeysack with me over the net. I was horrible at it and the ball ended up hurting my feet. (I'm a baby, I know.) Then Melanie asked if they had badminton and they did! So she and I ended up playing a vigorous game which none of the locals wanted to join in on but they enjoyed laughing at us whenever we missed the birdie.
That night the boys smoked far too many banana leaf cigarettes (filled with very strong tobacco they have in the jungle - one puff nearly seared my lungs black) and ended up passing around a water bottle full of rice wine courtesy of the villagers taking care of us. One smell of that sake and you knew it was close if not even worse than rubbing alcohol, a shot confirmed it, I could almost feel my kidneys withering - but you don't deny Thai villagers in the jungle. That is their territory and it is considered rude to refuse whatever they offer you. Needless to say, the next round of shots had me politely excusing myself before it reached me. I wanted to be able to function in the morning!
Somewhere around 2am - which was really about 7:45pm but felt so late because of the darkness and how long we'd been sitting around doing nothing - there suddenly appeared a wrinkly face next to mine. Leaning back, I was greeted with another toothless grin as an old man grabbed my wrist and said "For good luck! You. Good luck! Yes!" I gathered that the bracelets in his hand were for sale and with my wrist in his steel grip, I had no choice but to nod. I watched in fascination as he sat bowed over my hand, chanting, and blessing me with this bracelet before tying it around my wrist and (inevitably) saying "50 baht!" with a firm nod. Chuckling, I went to get his money, having enjoyed the experience regardless of it being another "get rich on tourists quick" scheme. I only had a 100 baht note on me and was planning on just letting him keep it but it amused me greatly to see that he took it, thanked me politely and without me explaining that he could keep the change, just took off with my 100 baht. Never to be seen again.
No one slept that night because of the cold (we were far up in the mountains) and the damn roosters that wouldn't shut up all night so the next morning had a group of cranky, hungover people hiking for a few hours to get to the waterfall that would be our only shower in days. Which is where I managed to get the bruise on my face. While climbing down, towards the water, I slipped on a rock and smashed my face. Luckily I hit other body parts first before my face hit or I think I might have broken some bones - apparently there was another girl who did the same thing but looked about a hundred times worse than I did. I was just *really* happy I didn't break anything. Now when people ask about the bruise, I tell them I was in a Muay Thai fight and they should see the other guy.
More hiking led to another waterfall that we could slide down into a pool of water at the bottom. I only did it once because, unlike the guys, I wasn't wearing much to save the skin on the back of my legs. Some sunbathing on nearby rocks and then we were off again to the place we were going to stay at. Getting there we were all very excited to see we were living right next to a waterfall amusement park and that the camp had a firepit!!! We all stripped and took off for the water. Dat and Pan were explaining that we could jump off the waterfall but we only had a very small area in which to aim for and if we missed that area, we'd end up jumping right onto a rock. Nice. I jumped, praying the entire time, and totally missed the rock. YAY!
The firepit that night was where much hilarity and jungle insanity occurred. Dat explained this drinking game 007 BANG - I'm not going to bother explaining it - and if you messed up, you had to both drink and get a mark of charcoal on your face. I managed to be the last person who messed up (mainly because I was the only anywhere near sober person) and ended up with charcoal on my face. I'm sure we must have looked afright!
At some point during the night, one of the Swedes suddenly sits beside me and says "I was just in the jungle with nothing but a Chang and my rum." (Aside: the boys had gone with Pan and Dat to hunt snakes and frogs to put on the fire as a snack and the Swede had been with them.) "Huh?" Said I, looking over at his completely blackened face and the two drinks in his hands. "It was heavy (an Aussie slang) man. I didn't even have a torch! (flashlight)" "What?! You were in the jungle, just now, without a flashlight?? Where are the rest of the guys?" "I dunno man." And this was where he spaced out, amazed by the sole fact that he'd made it back alive. "You're an idiot. A damn lucky idiot." Said I as I forcefully stole his rum from him and put it somewhere he couldn't find it. I didn't want him puking on me in the middle of the night, afterall, we were all sleeping in the same room. I'd been telling this particular Swede all throughout the trek (who chose to do stupid things often) that I didn't want to have to save his life and I said it again then to which he answered very sincerely; "But how cool would that be, man?! To save my life? That would be pretty sick! (Again, another Aussie slang.)" At this point I rolled my eyes and went to get myself a Chang - I was feeling far too sober for this group.
Good timing because as I came back, the boys bounded into the firepit with a limp frog in their hands. Dat tossed it on the fire and I watched as they all had a frog snack. One of the Aussies ended up with the head and without a moment's hesitation (liquid courage played a part in that, I imagine), he popped the entire head in his mouth. Apparently, it was good...? Mmm brains. I was a little too afraid of salmonella poisoning to touch the frog, but it was pretty tasty according to the rest of the tribe.
In the morning there were 12 people, at least 10 of which were severely hungover, with black charcoal all. over. their faces. groaning and lurching around looking for water, coffee and the toilet. I'm sure it was a pretty funny sight to behold.
On the way back, it was about 2hrs of straight down - enough that I was beginning to get cranky. My legs were shaking with the effort of holding myself up and back from falling down the steep mountain. Apparently switchbacks are for wimps. A couple people wiped out and one of the Aussies ended up cutting himself on a barbed wire fence but other than that and my face, there were no huge disasters. Thankfully. I kept remembering booking this trek and the agent saying "It also includes extra insurance." "But I already have travel insurance, what do I need more for?" "Well - just incase of....accidents." And being that there were many places we had to tiptoe around with a cliff on our left and a rocky hill on our right; as well as being driven around at 300 km/hr in the bed of a pickup truck, I suppose I'm glad it includes extra insurance!
The last leg of the journey had us on three stalks of bamboo with a "driver" and a couple sticks to steer ourselves down rapids while standing on these rafts. Our crazy driver kept screaming NO WET NO FUN!! and slapping his stick in the water while the even more insane driver of another raft kept banging into us, trying to topple us over. It was, actually, the most fun I had on the whole trek. I got right into it "NO WET NO FUN!!" and soaked the opposing rafts while trying to steer the back-end of the raft at the same time. I was on the raft with two Brits and an Aussie - we were the party raft, we kept breaking out in the renditions of Filthy/Gorgeous at the top of our lungs as we rounded vicious corners and tried our best not to smash into the rocks.
The rafting ended with Dat inviting us all in for another round of insane rice wine shots - CHINGADINGLINGLING! (What we would all yell instead of "cheers" in the jungle before drinking.)
Welcome to the jungle
We got fun 'n' games
We got everything you want
Honey we know the names
We are the people that can find
Whatever you may need
If you got the money honey
We got your disease
We now had three days and two nights worth of experiences and inside jokes that will keep us laughing for a long time and that no one else in our lives will understand.